Digital Radiography: Boost Your Bottom Line

Author : Dental Product Shopper
Published Date 11/04/2009
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Digital x-ray technology has come a long way since it was first introduced in the 1980s. Sensors are more comfortable, and the software has become more user-friendly. In addition, the sensor resolution has increased significantly, and some systems have gone wireless. More than a dozen companies are marketing and refining this valuable resource.

Digital Radiography: Boost Your Bottom Line

When digital radiography is correctly integrated into a dental office it provides a tremendous opportunity for practice growth and a healthy boost to the practice bottom line, including increased efficiency, increased productivity, internal marketing opportunities, and more efficient x-ray management.

Increased Efficiency

Digital radiography greatly reduces the time and materials required to take, process, and ?mount? dental radiographs. Less time processing x-rays translates into increased production and office efficiency.

A full mouth series (FMX) of x-rays consists of approximately 18 images and provides the best example of the digital time savings. Digital radiography can reduce the time required to complete a FMX from around 25 minutes with conventional x-ray film to under 5 minutes (Table 1).

Both systems require a preparation step of approximately equal time. Since the digital sensor resets after each exposure, the digital clinician changes the sensor holder only 4 times per FMX. Conversely, conventional x-ray requires the operator to remove the holder from the patient?s mouth, remove the film, replace the film, and then reposition the holder 18 times (see Table 2 online at www.dentalproductshopper.com/practicebuilding).

The digital system instantly processes and mounts the images while they are being taken, so the FMX is complete after only 3 steps. This allows you to immediately review the radiographs and conduct more productive procedures. Additionally, digital radiography allows the clinician to immediately review and retake the image if needed. Film-based clinicians will not know if there is a problem until after the radiograph has been removed from the processor.

Developing and mounting x-ray films require space (darkroom), materials (x-ray processor and chemicals), and time to complete. Busy offices often experience congestion around the processing while waiting to develop radiographs. Once developed, films need to be correctly mounted. Each step has its own hazards as some films can get lost, sink to the bottom of the processor, get mixed up with those of other patients, or get mounted incorrectly.

Finally, someone has to routinely empty and replace the chemicals and clean the processor. Some offices hire a ?rover? for these tasks, but there are costs associated with this position. Digital radiography can turn the ?rover? into a valuable ?producer,? allowing him or her to more efficiently take radiographs and assist with productive procedures.

Increased Productivity

I was astonished the first time I completed a root canal procedure using my digital x-ray system. Within seconds, the image was on my 19-inch monitor with the apical tip of my endodontic file staring back at me 1 mm short of the root apex.

Placing abutments on implants, seating crown and bridge copings, and cementing final restorations are all done with the confidence of being able to snap a quick radiograph. I can make sure the components are tight, margins are perfect, and locate excess cement within seconds, allowing me to quickly move on to another procedure. This time savings instantly translates into increased practice production.

Internal Marketing

Digital radiography can reduce a patient?s exposure to radiation by up to 90%. You can turn this benefit into a valuable marketing opportunity. I was amazed at how many patients thanked us and referred family members and friends.

One of the intangible benefits of digital x-ray systems comes with the new or emergency patient. Anyone who has ever tried to point out an abscess, cavity, or fractured root on conventional film has experienced the wide-eyed ?Uh-huh? mumbled by your patient as they try to follow the point of your pencil across the film. Digital radiography software allows the operator to draw circles around abscesses and highlight areas of interest to help facilitate patient communication.

The ?Uh-huh? can turn into an ?Uh-oh? as patients see the pathology displayed 10 times the actual size. New patients may convert to recare patients, while your ?emergency-only? and radiation- fearing patients may decide to become hygiene regulars.

More Efficient X-Ray Management

The digital x-ray system helps to streamline duplicating, storing, and retrieving x-rays, saving dental offices countless staff hours and frustration. Need to refer a patient to a specialist? Just print out the full mouth series.

Digital radiography systems offer HIPAA compliant software that allows dental offices to e-mail x-rays and attach them to electronic dental claims. Digital radiography systems provide instant access to all radiographs.

Conclusion

Digital radiography has changed the way many of us are practicing dentistry. Just like other advances in dental technology, there is an upfront cost and learning curve associated with this valuable resource. The financial benefits of properly integrating digital radiography into your practice can be quickly realized through increased efficiency, increased productivity, maximizing internal marketing opportunities, and more efficient x-ray management. In my experience, the time savings alone has allowed my practice to increase our productivity and quality of care.

James DiMarino, DMD, MSEd, started using digital radiography in his general dental practice in 1998. He is a 1996 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine and the Graduate School of Education and completed his dental residency program at West Jersey Hospital. You can reach Dr. DiMarino by email at dimarino@adamember.net

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